Rest in Peace: Buck Henry, 89

The entertainment mourns a tremendous loss today as we learn of the passing of Buck Henry, known for his work as an actor, a director, and a writer. Henry has a great many credits to his name, and I’d like to talk a bit about the ones I feel strongly about, in no particular order.

 

Grumpy Old Men: I think my first memory of seeing Henry onscreen was in the film Grumpy Old Men, where he played Snyder, the government employee trying to take John Gustafson’s house from him. He’s a straight man in the comedy, and the closest thing to a true villain in the film, and while he’s not onscreen a lot in the film, he’s memorably without any remorse for what he has to do, and it made him an effective antagonist.

Get Smart: Henry was the co-creator of Get Smart with Mel Brooks, and this is one of those shows that I feel was so ahead of its time, creating a great many tropes of parody-storytelling, and it’s a shame it’s gone mostly forgotten outside of the so-so film adaptation from a decade ago. I truly enjoyed watching these classic episodes and I actually had no idea that Buck Henry helped create and develop the series until a few years ago.

The Graduate: This is a film I only recently saw for the first time, but Henry’s dry humor can be found all over this screenplay. He was a gifted storyteller that created moments and situations that feel lived-in, even when the subject matter is almost silly. This a terrific screenplay and a wonderful film.

The Player: I actually saw The Player before The Graduate. It was in a film appreciation class in college, but revisiting it some time later, I absolutely adore the appearance by Henry, playing himself, pitching a sequel to The Graduate. It’s a fun little moment in a strange and surreal satire of Hollywood.

Saturday Night Live: I’ve seen several of Buck Henry’s appearances on SNL, dating back to the show’s first season. I firmly believe that his numerous appearances early on helped to develop a tone for where the show would go. He was always quite funny and unique, and I enjoyed seeing his episodes of the classic sketch comedy series. They are some of the best.

 

Buck Henry had his hand in a lot of Hollywood throughout his varied career in front of and behind the camera. He will be missed.

 

Notable Credits:

  • The Graduate (1967)
  • Get Smart (TV) (1965-1970)
  • What’s Up, Doc? (1972)
  • The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)
  • Heaven Can Wait (1978)
  • Saturday Night Live (TV) (1976-1980)
  • The Nude Bomb (1980)
  • Eating Raoul (1982)
  • The Player (1992)
  • Short Cuts (1993)
  • Grumpy Old Men (1993)
  • Town & Country (2001)

Do you have a favorite piece of cinema from Buck Henry? Let me know/Drop a comment down below.

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Early Review] Yesterday (2019)

Director: Danny Boyle

Cast: Himesh Patel, Lily James, Kate McKinnon, Ed Sheeran

Screenplay: Richard Curtis

116 mins. Rated PG-13 for suggestive content and language.

 

Yesterday is kind of a strange movie. Ever since I first heard bits and pieces about its story and style, I found myself to be a bit confused. I wasn’t really sure what a film like this could say about anything, and I didn’t really see where a character-driven journey could go that actually made the film’s existence worth it. Really, the only pure driving force that kept me interested was Danny Boyle (127 Hours, T2 Trainspotting) as director. As my screening grew closer, though, I found my curiosity building and my excitement rising, though I couldn’t really tell you why. Upon seeing the film, I still think it’s rather strange, but I cannot fault it for finding a very human and moving story through the eyes of a struggling artist, and it’s a film definitely worth trying.

Jack Malik (Himesh Patel, The Fox, TV’s EastEnders) is a struggling musician trying to find an audience. He knows there’s something special in his music. His manager and close friend, Ellie (Lily James, Cinderella, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again), knows it too, but for some reason, he just cannot find the fame he’s been looking for. He’s decided to give up on his dream, but that night, a major power outage occurs across the entire Earth and he is accidentally hit by a bus that doesn’t see him in the dark streets. When Jack wakes up, he discovers that he is in an alternate history where The Beatles never existed. He remembers them perfectly, but no one else does. Now, everyone has fallen in love with Jack’s songs, but they aren’t really his, and he finds that the fame he’s been seeking doesn’t mean much if you aren’t happy with yourself. Jack is in a situation where he must decide if a career of fortunes surrounding a lie is worth losing the woman he loves in the process.

The central relationship between Himesh Patel’s Jack and Lily James’s Ellie is so great and pure. She’s been his biggest supporter for fifteen years, loving him from afar and showing it with her belief and dedication and he fails to see what she needs from him. Sometimes, those relationships between friends really strain because both parties aren’t getting what they need from each other, and Ellie has ended up in a friend/manager column of his life instead of a love column. Now, I fail to see how any person wouldn’t fall in love with Lily James instantly, but for the purposes of this review, I will say that Jack’s eyes are set on the eventual fame and career he wants, and it makes for a moving struggle between two people who obviously love each other but just cannot get their paths to come together in the right way to make it work.

Now, there’s some logic issues to the film that I was hoping wouldn’t keep coming to mind, but Jack wakes up in a version of the world where The Beatles never existed as a band. As the story progresses, we see that their non-existence has an effect on more than just their music’s absence, so the question arises as to how Ed Sheeran (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Pop Star) became a musician if his primary influence never existed. Would he have pursued music? The Beatles aren’t the only band that doesn’t exist. Oasis never became a band and sang Wonderwall. There are writers that didn’t exist. There are products that were never invented. It never really explains what the central break in these timelines is or how it affected certain things but not others. Would Coldplay have existed? The film reminded me of Us or Avengers: Endgame where, if you let the logic gaps or questions bother you then you’ll miss out on the journey itself, so it’s best not to think about it. But the question did come up for me.

In that same vein, there are questions raised about the nature of a song like Back in the USSR, which Jack claims to have written the day of a concert in Russia. Ed Sheeran points out that it hasn’t been called the USSR since before Jack was born, and it’s a funny scene because it does point out the potential for problems in making music at a different time than was intended, or if you didn’t live the life of the person who wrote it. It comes up again with Hey Jude later on. I really liked when Jack’s narrative was tested; I just wanted more of it. For example, later in the film, Jack sings I Saw Her Standing There, which starts with the lyric “She was just seventeen…” and when I heard him sing it, I thought to myself that a song like that probably wouldn’t exist in this timeframe without some controversy. It’s something I wish Boyle and screenwriter Richard Curtis (Love Actually, About Time) would have delved into more.

Then there’s Kate McKinnon (Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, TV’s Saturday Night Live), who in the film essentially plays Kate McKinnon. She’s a very capable actress but sometimes she is used to excess, and the film struggles to find a use for her near the end, causing her to turn into a quite an annoyance by the end. I get what she’s trying to do, but the narrative doesn’t need it.

If the central relationship and moral quandary of the film didn’t work, Yesterday would be a bit of a mess. Thankfully, those two elements make for an extremely satisfying film, one that created conflict even among the people watching the film with me. It isn’t exactly going to leave you in a place you expect, but the film overall is surprisingly enjoyable and a good example of uniquely interesting ideas, even if they aren’t fully fleshed out. This is one I’ll be recommending for some time.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Ghostbusters: Answer the Call (2016)

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Director: Paul Feig

Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Cecily Strong, Andy Garcia, Charles Dance, Michael K. Williams, Matt Walsh, Chris Hemsworth

Screenplay: Katie Dippold, Paul Feig

116 mins. Rated PG-13 for supernatural action and some crude humor.

 

Yes, it’s that Ghostbusters film review.

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Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy, TV’s Gilmore Girls, The Boss) and Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig, The Martian, How to Train Your Dragon 2) were once partners, true believers, and friends, but that was a long time ago. The two have grown apart due to Erin’s attempts at unbelieving in the paranormal that brought the two together in the first place, but a rogue copy of the paranormal research book that Abby and Erin wrote years earlier surfaces and causes them to reunite alongside Abby’s new colleague Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon, TV’s Saturday Night Live, Finding Dory) and…uh, the one who drives the car, Patty (Leslie Jones, Trainwreck, Top Five). Together, the Ghostbusters must use their tools and expertise to stop a maniac trying to create an otherworldly invasion.

After watching the “Most Disliked” Trailer Ever on Youtube (yeah, it holds that distinction) and seeing one of the worst marketing campaigns in film history, I was extremely nervous. After all, I’ve been a fan of this franchise since I’ve known fear (that Vigo the Carpathian painting still unnerves me) and I’ve been frustratingly watching as hopes of a third film slowly dwindled into nothingness all because of Bill Murray. Yeah, I put all the blame on him. So, I was very judgmental of this reboot from the very beginning. I paid no attention to the gender-swapping in the movie because it didn’t really bother me. I just didn’t really care. What I did care about was a fun and frightful adventure that stayed true to the original but forged its own path.

For the most part, I actually really enjoyed Ghostbusters: Answer the Call. There were so many great elements and the fact that it wasn’t a straight remake really won me over. The Paul Feig (Spy, The Heat) comedy  was really funny and even though it missed the frights, it didn’t completely take me out of the experience.

There was a glaring issue that, for some, might not be a big deal. For me, it really was. This glaring issue was the decision to ignore the previous two installments. Instead of a brave decision, it felt like a slap in the face, especially with so many of the original performers returning for stupid cameos. Not a single cameo in this film made me happy except for the return of Ernie Hudson. Why Feig and fellow screenwriter Katie Dippold didn’t make this a passing of the torch I’ll never know. All it would have taken was one scene of Dan Aykroyd handing the equipment over to his neice or something. It wouldn’t even have had to been a good passing of the torch to be better than the complete retconning of the franchise. A true miss that is really the one major problem I had in an otherwise mostly enjoyable film experience.

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Perhaps one day we will get the extended cut we deserve with the original 4-hour cut that Paul Feig originally ended up with. For now, we will have to settle with a pretty fun film that pays homage and walks its own path. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the laugh-out-loud work from Chris Hemsworth (Thor, Star Trek) as Kevin the receptionist. Now, I don’t know if we are getting Ghostbusters: Answer the Call 2 down the road (the box office numbers aren’t exactly screaming for it) but I can only hope to see more adventures from this crew.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

So have you seen Ghostbusters: Answer the Call yet? What did you think? And what is your preferred horror/comedy of choice? Let me know!

 

 

For my review of Paul Feig’s The Heat, click here.

[Star Wars Days] Revenge of the Sixth…SNL Auditions

 

Hey everyone, I wanted to end our Star Wars Days celebration this year with some fun. My favorite spoof of Star Wars, in fact. Years ago, Saturday Night Live did a sketch outlining auditions for the original Star Wars featuring Kevin Spacey in a number of different impersonations. I present it to you here, now, and for the hell of it. Enjoy!

 

*okay, I couldn’t find the entire video. If someone out there finds it, please link it here. I do have a few snippets though, so enjoy!

-Kyle A. Goethe

Race (2016)

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Director: Stephen Hopkins

Cast: Stephan James, Jason Sudeikis, Eli Goree, Jeremy Irons, Carice van Houten, William Hurt

Screenplay: Joe Shrapnel, Anna Waterhouse

134 mins. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and language.

 

Well, 2015 was an interesting year in film. But all years must come to an end, so today we look forward at 2016, starting with the Stephen Hopkins (TV’s House of Lies, Lost in Space) film, Race.

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Race is mostly a biographical film chronicling the career of Jesse Owens (Stephan James, Selma, Lost After Dark) leading up to his time in the 1936 Olympics in Germany and his battle to win the gold over Adolf Hitler’s Aryan athletes. The film also displays the work of Avery Brundage (Jeremy Irons, The Lion King, High-Rise) to come to a decision over whether it is worth it to travel to Germany in the first place.

First of all, I should point out how terrific the title is. Sure, a little on the head, but nonetheless effective.

Stephen Hopkins faces a difficult task with this film, and that task is to decide what his film is even about. He fails in this task. He wants to make a biopic of Jesse Owens, but he wants to make a historical drama focused on the 1936 Olympics, and he wants to touch on Leni Riefenstahl (Carice van Houten, TV’s Game of Thrones, Black Book) and her quest to make a film on the Olympics from all its viewpoints. Sadly, while it is possible to do this in one film, it is unsuccessful in the attempt. For one thing, the very nature of the Jesse Owens part of the film dominates the far-too-much time spent on Brundage trying to keep the peace. The audience becomes fully aware very early on of the outcome but the film chooses to drag the plotline through to its conclusion at the loss of viewer engagement.

Stephan James does pretty solid work as Owens, and Jason Sudeikis (TV’s Saturday Night Live, We’re the Millers) gives an admirable attempt in breaking out of his comfort zone to portray Larry Snyder, Owens’ coach, while veterans Irons and William Hurt (Into the Wild, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them) feel wasted by an underdeveloped screenplay.

The film has its moments, particularly in the sequences where Owens is competing. While these sequences are very much what one would expect, it’s nice to see Hopkins commanding the screen if only occasionally.

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The pacing, though, is really where he loses us, focusing too much time on plot points that don’t add up to enough to maintain his momentum. Stephen Hopkins has given some truly great work to the genre field, but I feel like even he isn’t sure of himself here, and the work suffers from it. Race leaps into the air, reaching for greatness, but unlike its lead character, it comes up far too short.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

St. Vincent (2014)

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Director: Theodore Melfi

Cast: Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, Jaeden Lieberher

Screenplay: Theodore Melfi

102 mins. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material including sexual content, alcohol and tobacco use, and for language.

 

Bill Murray (Groundhog Day, Dumb and Dumber To) has done a lot of things recently seemingly to piss me off. He has also done a lot of things recently to make me happy. He is an enigma, much more aligned with the assholery of his fellow Saturday Night Live-r Chevy Chase (there, I said it). So when St. Vincent came out, I wasn’t terribly keen to see it. I forgot, though, about Murray’s innate ability to perform the hell out of a movie.

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In St. Vincent, Murray plays…Vincent, an older war vet who seems to hate everything and everyone except his dear Daka (Naomi Watts, King Kong, The Divergent Series: Insurgent), a paid lover who is having his baby. When he is roped into babysitting Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) at the behest of his down-on-her-luck mother Maggie (Melissa McCarthy, TV’s Gilmore Girls, Spy), Vincent uses the situation to his benefit, practically extorting the situation to his liking. When he finds that Oliver is in need of a father-figure, Vincent finds himself growing closer to the boy, whether he like it or not.

The performances here are great, especially those from Murray and Watts (who plays Daka so well that I forgot it was her). Even young Lieberher keeps his own with the commanding comedic vet Murray.

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A lot of people have discussed this film’s merits and its possible snub during the Oscars, and while I feel that it has a great many good things about the screenplay and the performances, the film’s technical aspects are nothing of particularly astounding quality. Director Theodore Melfi can make a movie, but a powerhouse award winner perhaps not. For what it is, St. Vincent is a cute little piece of a movie with some great work turned in from the actors. Groundbreaking? No. Funny with a heart? Sure. The acting here is what makes the film.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Happy 5th Birthday!] Date Night (2010)

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Director: Shawn Levy

Cast: Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Taraji P. Henson, Common, Mark Wahlberg

Screenplay: Josh Klausner

88 mins. Rated PG-13 for sexual and crude content throughout, language, some violence and a drug reference.

 

Steve Carell (TV’s The Office, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day) and Tina Fey (TV’s Saturday Night Live, This is Where I Leave You) are comedic powerhouses with great chemistry, and in Date Night, from director Shawn Levy (Real Steel, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb), they get the chance to play with it, even with the screenplay’s excessive shortcomings.

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Carell and Fey play the Fosters, Phil and Claire, and they need a new spark of romance in their lives. Their friends are getting divorced from a lack of love and they desperately want a date night to change it all, so when the tables are booked at the new restaurant, they take the table reserved for the absent Tripplehorns and enjoy their night. That is, until a case of mistaken identity leads to a seedy underworld of bad cops, worse mobsters, and a missing flash drive containing some very dangerous content and the Fosters have more on their plates than a missing spark.

Carell and Fey have tremendous chemistry and play so well off of each other, while director Levy controls the camera nicely lobbing back and forth between action and comedy. We also get some great cameo work from Mark Wahlberg (Boogie Nights, The Gambler), James Franco, Mila Kunis, and more.

The biggest issue here is from screenwriter Josh Klausner (Shrek Forever After: The Final Chapter, The 4th Floor) and his disappointing script. It has a nice general outline; there are laughs here and action there, but rarely do the two meet on equal ground (the dual-car car chase is an exception) which doesn’t give the leads much to do to flash their creative abilities.

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The leads perform quite admirable and carry the film much better than most others could, which help make Date Night a worthy view of a film, even if it suffers from pitfalls of a less-than-worthy screenplay.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Shawn Levy’s Night at the Museum, click here.

For my review of Shawn Levy’s Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, click here.

Shrek (2001)

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Director: Andrew Adamson, Vicky Jenson

Cast: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, John Lithgow

Screenplay: Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Joe Stillman, Roger S.H. Schulman

90 mins. Rated PG for mild language and some crude humor.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Animated Feature
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Published or Produced.

 

It isn’t easy to pull off a family film that stands tall years later. It is tougher to make that film a satire and to have to comedy still funny. Shrek did it. Shrek did it wonderfully.

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Shrek (Mike Myers, TV’s Saturday Night Live, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me) is a simple ogre. He has a swamp and a boulder and he likes it that way. The local villagers leave him alone and in turn he keeps to himself. It isn’t until he runs into a talking donkey (Eddie Murphy, Beverly Hills Cop, A Thousand Words) and is sent on a mythical quest to save a princess (Cameron Diaz, There’s Something About Mary, Sex Tape) from a dragon-guarded castle at the behest of the powerful Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow, TV’s 3rd Rock From the Sun, Interstellar) that Shrek truly learns what companionship can do to an ogre.

Shrek is a masterpiece and truly cemented Dreamworks Animation as being a powerful competitor to Disney’s Pixar. The voicework from Myers and Murphy is very strong here. They have a terrific chemistry (or lack thereof) during their scenes together. Lithgow really menaces here; until this movie, I hadn’t really seen anything from him proving that he could be villainous in nature.

Directors Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson created a wonderful enthusiasm that both satires and homages classic fairy tales. This was a precursor to shows like Once Upon a Time and Penny Dreadful, where we are treated to an alternate version of classic characters.

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Shrek is a master stroke of genius for family films and just comedies in general. I wish more films targeted at children had the boldness to provide laughs for all ages instead of pandering the way most of them do.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Puss in Boots, click here.

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